Home Design Studio 11.0

Home Design Studio 11.0, a new consumer-level 3-D architecture program, is aimed at people who want to remodel a room, design a home, or landscape a yard.

Punch Software, well known for consumer-level design software for the PC, has created Home Design Studio for the Mac from the ground up, and the Mac version has benefited from the company’s experience on the Windows platform. The interface is good enough to get you up and designing right out of the box.

The dilemma with this kind of consumer software is balancing ease of use with rich features and professional results. If anything, Punch Software lands a bit more on the feature-rich side of the equation, and the design results are often quite impressive.

It’s worth noting though, that Home Design Studio is primarily a conceptual and communication tool—it isn’t designed to produce final technical drawings suitable for use by construction contractors.

Contextual design techniques

In addition to its 3-D-modeling capabilities, the program comes with several numerous contextual Plan Tabs that provide tools and resources for specific types of projects. So for example, clicking on the Deck plan tab gives you a range of deck styles to choose from, while the Landscape plan tab gives you options like property line, path and driveway, sprinkler, gate, and so forth. Plan tabs also include: Foundation, Floor, Electrical, Plumbing, Roofing, HVAC, and Detail.

The program also includes PowerTools, such as the Topography Designer and Roofing Assistant, which function as plug-in modules, and can do more sophisticated and specialized work. The Topography Designer creates the slopes and hills on your lot and helps you cut in a building pad for your house. The Roofing Assistant is particularly useful because figuring out roofs in 3-D is usually the hardest part of modeling a home, especially for nonprofessionals.

3-D in real time

Home Design Studio is great fun to work with. You’ll start your design in the 2-D window, but your work is automatically updated in a 3-D window in real time. The 3-D rendering window moved quickly on my MacBook Core 2 Duo testing machine—the 3-D-rendering engine had no problem keeping up with the 2-D design window.

Drawing walls, floors, and roofs is very quick, and everything in Home Design Studio is drawn to scale with actual dimensions indicated. Placing windows, doors, and other objects into the plan is also easy. To place a window into a wall you simply select the window type from the built-in object library and click on the wall where you want the window to be installed. The window is then automatically placed in the wall at the right height. You can then, if necessary, adjust its position, size, or height.

At any time, you can go to the 3-D window and view your model in various ways. A Free Walkthrough view lets you navigate through the model by moving in and out, and left or right. A Free Fly-Around view lets you move around the outside of the model and view it from various heights. For a landscape design, you can even “grow” the plants to see what they will look like after five or ten years. Also, you can import a photograph of your actual landscape to use as a background for your 3-D model.

Another really fun thing you can do in the 3-D window is add and edit colors and textures for all the objects in your model. Just browse the color and materials library and drag and drop your selection onto objects in the 3-D view and watch them change. The colors and materials provided in the library are very extensive and include paint colors, wall colors, wood floors and floor materials, brick and stone textures, tile, countertop materials, and much more. Many of the colors and materials provided are replicas of brand-name products that you could buy for your real project. This is a great feature, and while the library that comes with Home Design Studio is already extensive, I encourage Punch Software to add more real-world manufacturers and products into future versions.

Some quirks

Once you get over how fun it is to play with Home Design Studio, you will likely run into a few frustrations. I often found that objects such as furniture or lighting fixtures would initially be placed at locations that I did not intend, such as a lighting fixture showing up on my floor. So there is a fair amount of correction that you’ll need to do as you add more details to your model.

It can take some time and patience to master the technique of placing objects—such as kitchen cabinets—precisely, so that they line up and display properly. Furthermore, it isn’t immediately obvious how to use all the tools. Home Design Studio would benefit from a quick start-type guide, because most users will not read the 200-page user manual before starting a project. Lastly, some of the nicest features, such as the tools for creating topography or custom cabinets, are somewhat buried in the interface and can easily be overlooked.

Macworld’s buying advice

If you want to landscape your yard, remodel your kitchen, design a new home, or just want to have some fun by playing architect, Home Design Studio 11.0 is great software at a reasonable price. It’ll also serve to assist you in communicating your ideas to experts such as architects and interior designers.

[ Greg Miller is an architect and an interactive software and Web developer specializing in new media for the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction, and publishing markets. ]

I built this model with the Topography Designer and Landscape plan module. The building textures were dragged and dropped into the 3-D window.

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